Monday, September 28, 2009

Public Option Showdown at the Finance Corral

Big “D” Democrats aren’t sitting on their hands. Tomorrow, Max ‘Hamlet’ Baucus’s Finance Committee resumes its markup with a showdown: Senators Rockefeller and Schumer will be introducing separate amendments to incorporate a strong public option.

In simple terms, the public option is a nonprofit public plan to compete with the private insurance companies, keep them honest by providing choice, and bring healthcare costs down. It makes eminently good sense. Unlike the untested Co-Op plan favored by conservaDems (DINOS) like Kent Conrad and Ben Nelson, the public option has a 44-year model to draw from: Medicare.

The biggest knock against the idea of Co-Ops is that they won’t have the collective strength to compete effectively against the private insurers. There’s also a regional component. They’re most favored by legislators representing small midwest and western states where co-ops have been most popular; Medicare has national outreach.

This is the first test of the DINOS's commitment to the people over the special interests. Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Blanche Lincoln, and every other Democrat taking orders from the insurance industry to oppose the public option will be forced to go on record with their opposition. Of course, we are hoping they do the right thing, but if they don't they'll be feeling heat-heAT-HEAT from their constituents, Big Time. This is only the opening salvo of the battle to assure that a public option is part of the final healthcare bill signed by President Obama.

The public wants it. The latest NYT/CBS poll rates nationwide public support for the public option at 65%.

Doctors want it.
They overwhelmingly favor the public option by nearly 75%. One reason: Many doctors say they've had “largely good experiences with Medicare.”

Meanwhile, even the Mayo Clinic favors a public option, although it has hedged its bets by taking the Baucus-Conrad approach of favoring a “Co-Op public option,” a play on words if you will. It’s described as member-run, non-profit insurance plans which “will be truly public plans because they will be owned and run by the consumers who use them.” Mayo opposes a real public plan modeled on Medicare because they claim it will not control costs and will “punish” doctors. Sounds like an anti-public option Republican soundbite. The only missing element is the Frank Luntz (the Repug with the bad complexion – rosacea or lupus) talking point: the evil “government-run” plan.

Pure politics. Mayo’s playing the Republican game, hoping to pivot to the Baucus-Conrad Co-Op. First of all, their claims are false. The CBO has scored the House (most robust version) of the public option will save taxpayers $110 billion over ten years.

Progressives are turning up the heat by running ads against public option opponents Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, threatening to recruit primary challenge candidates. Both Democratic politicians have already backed down.

Now it’s Max Baucus’s turn to feel the people’s pressure. This ad targets Baucus for standing with the insurance companies –- from which he received $3.4 million in contributions -- against the wishes of a majority of Montanans who favor the public option, 47%-43%, and Democrats, 55%-34%. The ad campaign has already raised $50,000, half of what it needs to run in Montana and D.C., and has caught the attention of Baucus's staff:

As Governor Dean said, every Democrat will “sink or swim” on this bill, from President Obama on down. “We’ve got to do the right thing.”

When 65% of your constituents are clamoring for a public option, what is your problem, Democrats!

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